Ginger Breedlove and Lesley Rathbun held a webinar on Thursday 2/8/2018 at 6 p.m. cst. They discussed how midwives can become concept creators and leaders in various practices, as well as provided examples from their combined 70+ years of midwifery experience. There is a link to the webinar at the bottom of this article.
Finding My Passion and Developing Experience
As a young Labor and Delivery Nurse in the 1970’s, I became increasingly aware that families were looking for a new birth experience. As this awareness developed, so did my life’s passion.
The standard maternity care practices of the day required laboring mothers to stay in bed, unable to eat or drink, with very little support, under the influence of considerable medication. This was still an era when mothers were regularly strapped down during labor and experienced memory loss due to twilight sleep.
Even though I hadn’t been in the professional world very long as a Labor and Delivery Nurse, I knew there had to be a better way. I was reprimanded frequently for allowing women to suck on wet washcloths, allowing them to stand up and use the bathroom after a 1,000cc soapy enema, and encouraging them to ask to keep the baby with them during recovery.
Fortunately, in hindsight, I was creating sufficient frustration for many of the OBs I worked with. This was the beginning of the women’s empowerment movement. Women were starting to advocate for themselves using the knowledge they developed during childbirth preparation classes. Even though the things these educated mothers were asking for were all medically safe, I was told by the hospital to ignore their requests and assist with labor and delivery the “right way” or leave my position.
I chose to leave. During this time, I had become friends with Dr. Josie Norris and Libby Rosen, two maternity care professionals who understood that there was an effective, in-demand alternative that would provide families with the experience they were looking for.
Together, we opened the first state-licensed birth center in the USA in Topeka, KS in 1979. The birth center style of maternity care we provided was very different from the standard hospital experience. Our laboring mothers were allowed to walk around, make use of a bathtub, and both eat and drink as they wished, Additionally, we provided extensive educational classes and prenatal care that made our families happier, healthier and more knowledgeable about their experience. Our birth center ended up providing care to families for 40 years before reconfiguring itself in August of 2017.
Letting Passion Guide You is Key to Progress
The standard maternity care experience in the United States hasn’t changed much since the 1970’s. Technology has rapidly advanced and moved birth even farther away from nature than it was back then. Maternal/infant outcomes have worsened since the introduction of the electronic fetal monitor in the late 70’s.
Laboring mothers today routinely go to the hospital and are immediately hooked up to an IV. A fetal monitor is applied. There is almost never an attempt to assure her that the labor pain she feels is normal, so an epidural is quickly called for if she’s in any kind of pain. Conservatively managed maternity care still restricts mothers in labor from ambulating and labor is regularly sped up using medication.
Still, there is little support for mothers in this environment. The labor and delivery nurses on duty are likely monitoring so many fetal monitors that most mothers are alone in their room, not quite sure of what’s going on most of the time. Unless a family makes plans in advance to bring in a doula, mom probably doesn’t have someone continually with her to help manage labor.
All of this leads to most hospital labor and delivery wings being fairly quiet places. If no one is in pain, if no one is feeling what happens during birth, if few mothers are even aware of what is going on with their bodies and why then there’s little reason to make the sounds associated with natural birth.
A silent labor and delivery department speaks volumes to me. It represents an important factor for why I have made the choices I have made during my career. Families deserve a safe, patient, and intimate birth experience and it has been my mission for the last 35+ years to make sure they receive this level of care.
In the mid-1990’s, I helped start a hospital-based midwife service at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, MO. When I first arrived, the birth experience at St. Luke’s was similar to many other hospitals across the country: medically managed, technologically-driven, using pain medication and epidurals regularly.
After three months of watching and observing, I introduced a midwifery model of care and the difference couldn’t have been more apparent. Where there was silence before came the sounds I grew up hearing as a young midwife.
We provided continuous support from the time each mother went into active labor to an hour or two after birth when we made sure mom was fine and the baby was breastfeeding well. Unlike the typical obstetric model, we were not drop-in birth attendants. Families recognized this change and appreciate it immensely.
How Can You Create Your Dream Job?
These are just two examples of how following my passion lead me to the perfect next step in my professional development. By knowing myself and looking for options, I was able to surround myself with health care professionals who not only shared my passion but helped provide me with opportunities.
For many though, the path may not be so clear. During our webinar on February 8, 2018, Lesley Rathbun and I discussed how both new and experienced midwives can identify their dream job and create a plan for making it a reality.